you first


Abernathy was launched to surface narratives reflecting real, lived experiences and targeted at a professional black male demographic—narratives that aren’t typically found elsewhere. We’ve since published more than 250 articles, poems, interviews and profiles that have reached hundreds of thousands of people, and no one has benefited more from the content than me. But what comes next?

As many of you know, I’ve recently been spending more time with audiences that are looking to grapple with many of the topics that we cover here. The difference between the impact you can have when writing someone a letter as compared to looking them in the eye and sharing an uncomfortable truth can scarcely be quantified.

It’s easy to rail against the system while comfortably ensconced in my office, amplifying the work of brave souls who seek to change the world in which we live for the better. It is a completely different thing to stand in front of a sea of strangers and say the kinds of things that you’d avoid saying if you’re there to be liked and make friends. And the more I do it, the more convinced I am that waiting on other people to change is a losing strategy.

In one of my recent sessions, I was asked how someone who “doesn’t see” race or gender can help. He knew he wasn’t a part of the problem, but someone obviously was. Before I responded, one of his colleagues patiently introduced him to the concept of unconscious bias, and how his perspective might be blinding him to bias of which he’s unaware.

This is not an uncommon reaction to conversations about equality. The notion that other people have an issue that needs to be resolved is prevalent. In other words, the people most in need of a live intervention are utterly oblivious of this fact. They’re sure they get the joke already.

Abernathy plays a small part in identifying and amplifying this truth by making it personal and relevant and accessible. But the more we all step up to the proverbial microphone of opportunity and state our truth with conviction—even if that truth is, “I have no idea what to do.”—the better.

Abernathy is the leading online magazine for professional black men, and this is an excerpt from a recent newsletter. Subscribe for full and early access.

here and now


There’s a palpable tension in workplaces across the nation right now. For many, the police shootings of unarmed black men, protests, and unrest spilling into the streets is hard to make sense of. With each passing day, it becomes harder and harder to separate work from life outside of work.

One of the challenges with how we talk about diversity and inclusion in tech is that we’re starting in the middle, not the beginning. There’s no question that the dearth of underrepresented minorities in tech is important to address. But what is it about our culture that reliably produces numbers like these across industries? How can we talk about what’s next without first acknowledging the forces that create these disparities?

Over the past two weeks, I’ve spoken with audiences from California to Massachusetts about how to think about the challenges that thoughtful and socially-conscious business leaders and change agents face today.

It’s clear the way forward involves confronting these issues head-on, and we don’t have the luxury of waiting any longer. It’s a brave and generous thing to ask a question that might make you look foolish, to ask a black colleague how they’re doing, and to start a long-overdue conversation in your place of work.

A powerful thing starts to happen when companies begin these conversations internally: people see each other’s humanity and lived experiences for the first time, previously untold stories connect colleagues in new ways, and people of all stripes feel empowered to bring more humanity into the way they do business.

Not every company has the resources to hire the former United States Attorney General and deploy a full-time team of data scientists to combat discrimination. But that’s ok. What’s available to us in abundance is the raw material that makes cultural change possible: compassion, empathy, and bravery. Let’s start there, and let’s start now.

I’d love to hear how your company is navigating these conversations, and how the business leaders you look up to are stepping up to the challenge. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a few ideas.

Abernathy is the leading online magazine for professional black men, and this is an excerpt from a recent newsletter. Subscribe for full and early access.

I’ve lately been fielding questions from non-black founders and hiring managers looking to diversify their teams. They sense the need to acknowledge the risk inherent in uprooting a person’s life when pursuing new opportunities, and acknowledge the challenges faced by blacks when competing for roles. The subtext of the questions are, “how do I show black people that I really care without being perceived as patronizing?”

I think this line of thinking is misguided. Black people don’t need special treatment.

What candidates (who happen to be black) want is the truth. They want to know what they’re getting themselves into. They want to hear the heart of the founder and what she stands for. They want to know that they’re not simply a row in a spreadsheet or the fulfilment of a quota or a token hire.

And from that perspective, the conversation isn’t about what black people need. It’s about the kind of companies and environments we’re looking to foster.

This isn’t to minimize the effects of racism and discrimination that anchor many of my fellow black countrymen to diminished levels of achievement and success. On the contrary, when I look at what black folks have overcome and continue to fight, my instinct is to reframe the conversation as one of opportunity and access rather than accommodation.

This thinking has significant economic implications, and the real question is this: how do we engage the 80-90% of the population that didn’t graduate from an elite school, doesn’t have relevant work experience, and who are completely overlooked by companies looking to win the “war for talent”?

An experience on the train last week made me think of the capacity for empathy and understanding that many people who hold historically disenfranchised identities hold. An older white man slowly hobbled in on a wooden cane, with a Batman t-shirt, a straw hat, and a simple request. “Any chance I can get a seat?” he said to no one in particular. Two black women seated closest to him sprang to their feet, vacating their bench.

Winners in the new economy won’t just look to Stanford and Harvard for bright-eyed recent graduates willing to grind out 80 hour weeks, they’ll also look to the Harlems and Detroits and Oaklands of the nation for a generation of leaders who can usher in a new era of innovation and creativity, in ways that we can scarcely imagine.

When we start to strip away our biases, look each other in the eyes, and begin to understand what life might be like for others, the empathy and compassion fostered by this radical (and simple) act of humanity will transform our experience of the world around us. A new rubric is needed for evaluating non-traditional talent, and it’s imperative that we aggressively share notes and discuss what’s working.

Abernathy is the leading online magazine for professional black men, and this is an excerpt from a recent newsletter. Subscribe for full and early access.

lesson learned


My first job out of college was with a company that currently employs more than 375,000 human beings. Since disconnecting from the Matrix, my professional life has been organized around much smaller (and often distributed) teams. I’ve had great managers, hard-working teammates, and wise mentors. But none of this prepared me for a head-on collision with my own ignorance last year as the diversity panel where I was speaking drew to a close.

When the floor opened for questions, a woman asked about how she should deal with a (male) manager who had demonstrated sexist behavior. A woman on the panel responded first, and I was surprised by the emphasis on carefully navigating the politics and considering the repercussions of speaking up.

By contrast, I encouraged her to immediately contact HR. And as it turns out, my response illustrated the problem. As a man, I benefit from the patriarchal structure of most work environments. I’ve never had to worry about my opinion being discounted, I’ve never had to assume secretarial duties in meetings, and I’ve never felt harassed or uncomfortable in work environments because of my gender.

Horror stories from women who had reached out to HR under similar circumstances spilled from the audience. I was appalled to learn how common it is for women to experience vicious professional repercussions. The topic ignited the previously subdued crowd, and the ensuing conversation had to be curtailed to clear the stage for the following panel.

I failed to spot my own male privilege despite being a black man surrounded by strong and outspoken feminists. I had the luxury of being oblivious. That’s a humbling thought for me.

This is why we publish so much writing by women in Abernathy. Sometimes the most important thing we (as men) can do with the microphone is to pass it.

Abernathy is the leading online magazine for professional black men, and this is an excerpt from last week’s newsletter. Subscribe for full and early access.

holding space


I started my first Fortune 500 internship in 2005 with Convergys Corporation in Jacksonville, Florida. The work had precisely nothing to do with my Information Technology degree program, I was making $5/hour less than my peers at the same company (a fortune to a college sophomore), and at no point in my life had I ever envisioned beginning a career in outsourced customer care.

Those small issues aside, it was a tremendous learning experience for me. I secured the internship through INROADS, a non-profit organization whose mission “is to develop and place talented underserved youth in business and industry, and prepare them for corporate and community leadership.” When I reflect on the lifelong friends I made, the professional development training I received, and the trajectory that those summer internships put me on, I feel extremely grateful for having been introduced to the program.

Among the more sobering lessons I learned that remains with me to this day is how black folks are perceived, regardless of how we’re dressed. I don’t recall who imparted the wisdom, but they implored me and my fellow interns to consider how jarring it might be for people who have never worked with many minorities to suddenly see and interact and work with dozens of bright-eyed, Type-A young people from completely different backgrounds.

This is especially true for large black males like me—I’m 6’3 and I’ve clearly never missed a meal. And so I developed an acute awareness of how my size and presence makes others feel in the workplace. But this doesn’t just apply when I’m wearing a suit and tie.

It applies when I’m in elevators and coming around corners. When I’m on the subway. When I’m walking up to the building where I live. When I’m driving through fancy neighborhoods. When I’m sharing a cab. When I’m on the subway. When I’m saying hello to a stranger on the sidewalk.

I make sure to scuff my shoes on the sidewalk or sing when I’m about to pass someone on the sidewalk at night. I make myself smaller when I’m in an enclosed space with women. I refrain from making sudden movements and eye contact if it’s dark outside and I pass someone. I’ll cross to the other wide of the street proactively…

Code switch verbally? I code switch physically. Subconsciously. I could list a hundred more things, but you get the joke.

We’re all carrying something, no matter what we look like or where we came from. And if I’m not constantly decentering the privileges afforded me as a tall straight black male—considering, for a moment, what it might be like to be someone else—then I’m not trying hard enough.

What might you be carrying? What adjustments do you make for others to be comfortable around you? What assumptions might I be making about your lens?

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by people who walk the talk of feminism and anti-racism, of queer-friendly politics and respect for diverse world views. Yet these examples remind me of how blind we can all be to our own biases. Even when we’re trying.

Abernathy is the leading online magazine for professional black men, and this is an excerpt from a recent newsletter. Subscribe for full and early access.

the punch line


One Saturday a couple years ago, I was waiting for a table outside of one of my favorite brunch spots in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A server came outside with an order someone had placed and said “black bean burrito?”

I raised my hand and said, “sir, it’s African-American bean burrito.” That one went over pretty well.

I really enjoyed my time in Boston (Cambridge). I know a lot of black folks who despise Boston for its racism, but I suppose I was fortunate in that my time there was wonderful.

My quality of life was excellent, there were plenty of things to do within walking distance of my condo, and I was able to work closely for nearly a year with one of the smartest and most capable technical executives I’ve ever met.

All was not well, though.

Professionally, I was a web performance optimization engineer. I was supporting and delivering professional services around a popular piece of software that has nearly a million active users from all over the world.

I was over-extended, I didn’t have the resources (e.g., a team to assist with the administrative overhead and fulfillment of orders) to successfully manage my projects, and net effect of these factors was predictable: I burned out.

I crash-landed in my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida for a reset, making one last heroic effort to get on top of my responsibilities. I hired an assistant, documented many of the processes required to do my job, and started getting up at 3am to get a head start on tasks before the deluge of emails from our American customers started rolling in.

It wasn’t enough though, and the situation had become untenable at this point, so I resigned.

Around this same time, news of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson shocked the nation.

I remember it vividly. I was active on Twitter at the time, so the news reached me quickly. In the ensuing days and weeks, I monitored the developments day and night, glued to my screen.

Character assassination. Vandalism. Misinformation. Tear gas. Arrests. Provocation. Anger. Rage. Pain. Confusion. Lies.

Those events changed me.

I enjoyed a comfortable middle-class upbringing in the suburbs, and many of the issues affecting communities like Ferguson, Missouri were utterly foreign to me. I’ve never experienced the hopelessness, oppression, and bleak outlook that many of my black countrymen experience. That wasn’t my story.

And for the first time, I understood. Not just intellectually, but in a way that I could feel. In a way that I could see. Those were dark days.

And from that place, Abernathy was born. I wanted to create a space where black folks could remind ourselves and each other of the things that mattered. The things that were important to us. The things we needed to discuss. A place where we took control of our own narrative.

And so it’s fair to say that no one has benefited more from this project than I have. Your stories, your support, and your solidarity have touched and changed many people. People like me.

Abernathy is the leading online magazine for professional black men, and this is an excerpt from a recent newsletter. Subscribe for full and early access.

For Toys R Us Kids


Funny how songs and jingles stick with you over the years. Toying with post titles just now, I thought about the video above and the memories it brought back. I recall enormous portions of my time and thinking being taken up by what I wanted for Christmas when I was a kid.

I’d collect the circulars from the Sunday paper and make a detailed mental wish list of the things I wanted. I’d familiarize myself with the details and specs and versions of whatever it was that had my attention, and I would submit my requests to the appropriate governing body (smile).

What am I talking about? I’m talking about growing up.

Specifically, what I wanted to be when I grew up. My earliest professional aspiration was that of a marine biologist. I think that was a pretty popular selection for young, starry-eyed elementary school kids without much exposure to what life has to offer.

Alas, I never pursued this aquatic vocation. And the next real professional aspiration I had, amusingly, was self-employment. I knew I wanted to work for myself, but I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I got a job. And you might know how that went…

I’m 31 and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and I’m not sure I ever will. But I’ve been steadily crossing terrible ideas and people off the list over the last few years.

I’m in a bit of a professional transition right now wherein I see the confluence of opportunity timing and resources in a way that gives me a lot of optimism about the weeks and months to come.

Last month, I had the pleasure of sitting on a diversity panel at the [email protected] Culture Conference. A dear friend recommended me for the remaining spot they had available for the panel when he heard that they were looking for someone else to add.

It turned out to be a home run for me in the sense that I was 1) sitting alongside folks I’d love to be working with and 2) able to share many of my observations and perspectives with an audience that wasn’t used to hearing them presented in the way that I shared them. The panel was well-received, and the conference was one of the most thoughtfully curated events I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending.

Next month, I’ll be presenting at Responsive Conference in Berkeley, California. It’ll be my first time in the Bay Area (!) which I shared in today’s Abernathy newsletter.

The details:

What: Conference: The Future of Work
When: September 19-20, 2016
Where: Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley, CA

I think I’m going to simply plagirize myself and share what I sent out in the newsletter to which I linked:

Confession: I’ve never been to the Bay Area.

If you don’t work in tech, this probably doesn’t matter to you, but trust me—I’m risking my street cred by admitting this publicly. The good news is two-fold:

  1. In exactly one month, I’ll be speaking at Responsive Conference in Berkeley, California.
  2. If you’d like to meet me there, and you’d like a 15% discount on tickets, today is the last day for the early bird discount.

I don’t take it lightly that I have the privilege and honor of bringing this message to audiences that look nothing like me, whose lived experiences are nothing like mine. Paradoxically, I think the differences in our experiences help us understand the ways in which we can come together.

I’m not sure how to proceed with the important work of healing and reconciliation and empowerment without healthy doses of compassion and empathy (my guiding principles). I’ll get off my soapbox, but I’ll be back on it when I present next month.

One of the reasons I agreed to speak is because the event won’t just be people on stage sharing TED Talk ideas that everyone in the audience will agree with. On the contrary, attendees and speakers will be engaging with complex problems and coming up with solutions. Tech, complexity, diversity, and real conversations? That’s my kinda party.

[If the link above doesn’t work, the code for the 15% discount is Responsiveorg.]

The most important thing to note is that the 15% discount expires at the end of the day, so get to clicking if you want to take advantage of that discount.

I’ll write a followup post either here or on Abernathy (you’re subscribed, right?) or both about the experience, but I’d love to see you in Cali if you’ll be around.

This post has been a meandering exercise in stating something pretty simple: sometimes you have to make it up, in public, and sometimes you have a chance to add value while you do that. Let’s make it up together, shall we?

Well, together but separate. (I’m mostly an introvert. Mostly.)

A rather amusing set of concerns often befall the budding entrepreneur as they imagine fame, fortune, and scaling.

I’ve gotta be careful — I don’t want too many customers…

I heard that if you incorporate in Delaware or Florida…

Would you mind signing an NDA?

While we’re busy making sure our certain success doesn’t overtake our lives and drown us in abundance, we sometimes forget to do the hard things. Hard things like asserting rather than falling in line, executing rather than hiding, and persisting rather than pivoting.

There’s precisely nothing about running a company that comes natural or easy to people — don’t believe the lies. But it’s certainly manageable, and if it’s worth doing, it’s worth maintaining.

In the early days of Abernathy, I considered a long list of mostly irrelevant topics to ensure the best outcome for my budding media company. As time passes, I develop a much keener sense of what’s important.

Anxious preoccupations are wonderfully seductive, but healthy cashflow is a powerful tool to have if you’re serious about thriving.

The transgender bathroom debate provides a useful illustration of how modern society collides with tradition and culture. Same-sex marriage wasn’t legal across the nation before June 26th of 2015. African Americans couldn’t exercise their 15th amendment right to vote before 1965 — scarcely more than five decades ago.

We’re on the front lines of deciding what’s acceptable in our work, our nation, our states, and even much closer to home. We influence culture by the thoughts that we entertain, by the generosity we show, and by the kind of lives we choose to live.

Cynically, yes, much of our society is directed by institutions and bureaucrats that seem hopelessly unfit for the task. But we can still strive to be more excellent versions of ourselves if we see fit. We need good people passing laws and disrupting the status quo, no doubt, but we also need to be kind to ourselves.

…but it’s entirely possible that you’re dehydrated. Perhaps it’s been a while since you’ve worked up a sweat and spent some time in quiet reflection.

Who knows how you might feel after you spend some time on the essentials.